Jim Malone, the founder of CounterEvolution, at his company's Manhattan showroom.
We’ve all heard the axiom about one man’s trash being another man’s treasure. Once you meet Jim Malone, however, that phrase takes on a new, more meaningful significance.
Malone is the chief executive and founder of CounterEvolution, a New York City-based company that salvages wood and other materials from soon-to-be torn down buildings, transforming it into furniture.
Though his life now revolves around design, Malone worked in music following his graduation from the University of Richmond.
“Well, my background is actually as a musician,” he says. “I really came to New York to play music, and that was a while ago. I kind of got sidetracked working for a music production company, and that company got into dubbing Japanese animation, and that led me to working on Pokémon, which I did for four years. And I was still in cartoons for another four years after that.”
Malone was first introduced to reclaimed wood nearly a decade ago, he says, while designing a home in Upstate New York. From there, the pieces essentially fell into place, as he slowly tested the market and realized that demand existed for the kind of product he’d one day sell at CounterEvolution.
Free Enterprise recently sat down for an interview with Malone at his company’s showroom in Manhattan’s Flatiron district.
FE: Why did you start CounterEvolution?
I was looking for something else to do, and I looked at my countertop that I had made, which was in my apartment on the Lower East Side, and decided to just try to throw a couple of things up on Craigslist and see what the response was like. And there was a good response, which told me there was something there. And that was about seven years ago this summer … that I posted the first thing on Craigslist. It officially became a company in early 2008.
FE: What’s the response been like and how is business?
Business is good. A lot of our work comes from commercial stuff—restaurants, and we do a lot of conference tables. But the showroom is our latest venture, and that opened a couple of months ago, so a lot of what we’re doing now is trying to get the word out about the showroom so people can come in and we can broaden our appeal to consumers and residential orders.
FE: How did you get your products into high-profile places like Sweetgreen and Shake Shack?
Well, I’ll tell you that Sweetgreen was really the first restaurant that found us, and it was really early in their growth. They were about to open up their second and third locations at around the same time, and they placed an order with us, and at the time it was the largest order we had so we had to scale up to do that. And I think that Shake Shack was introduced to our product through Sweetgreen. They’ve just been great relationships for us.
FE: What skills from your former career do you still use today?
I’m a big believer that everything informs the next chapter, and that there’s an evolution in a person’s life—whether they’re noticing it or not. For some strange reason, I was an economics major in college, and I kind of did that, even though most of what I did in college was play music and that’s what I was interested in. And then after college, I was in bands, and I was always kind of the leader of the band. And in my post-college band, we stayed together for about four years afterwards. We all lived together. We traveled in a school bus together. And there was a lot of managing, of everything really. I was kind of in charge of everything. I kept it going. Whenever I’ve had bands, I’ve always kind of been the leader in that sense. And then, when I got into doing cartoons, the last four years of that I was a producer, so I was always managing a team and there was always a deadline and it was specific, contract-type work. That project-oriented stuff, I’ve had a lot of history working toward a goal and accomplishing that. Now that I’m thinking about it, there is always that sense of an accomplishment, which I guess I’m drawn to for whatever reason as an artist. I like to feel something tangible at some point in the process, and these jobs certainly have all given me that.
FE: What’s the most challenging part about running your own business, and what do you love most about it?
The most challenging part is just the time constraints and you wind up doing so much less of what you really want to be doing and so much more of what you swore you never wanted to do. For me, I love to put a design together and then talk to my guys in the shop and see it all come together. It’s especially satisfying with a larger order for a place like Shake Shack because they’re always ordering custom tables and custom designs. When it all comes together, it’s very gratifying.
Michael Bordieri is a Senior Editor of FreeEnterprise.com. Free Enterprise is produced by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and highlights the successes and challenges that face our nation’s business community.